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Social media keywordsThere are companies that would love to develop more native advertising—that is, advertisements that match with the surrounding content and look more like entertainment than information. There are also lots of creative people who design Vine videos or lay out Instagram shoots that feature popular brand names. And now, there is a service to connect them.

Niche exists specifically to help companies and brands find influential posters with lots of followers who will create campaigns for those brands. Consider the case of one Vine user who had a regular job as a print designer. His short, stop-motion animated videos became so popular, with his followers constantly demanding more, that he decided to quit his regular job and transform his garage into an animation studio. His popularity also grabbed the attention of Niche, which then put him in touch with Home Depot, among other companies. His cute, six-second video for Home Depot’s garden department shows a pair of animated hands in gardening gloves planting seeds and watering, then clapping with excitement when a bounty of plants springs to life.

For the approximately 70 brands that have solicited Niche’s help, it offers access to around 3,000 social media stars, who together account for an estimated 500 million followers. The companies pay the content generators an average of several thousand dollars for their efforts—exponentially less than a traditional ad campaign. The work these stars produce may be less cleanly professional than what the companies would receive from a traditional advertising agency, but that’s partly the point. People follow the content producers because their videos and photo shoots are natural, often funny, and less evidently focused on sales.

When the producers of the children’s movie Earth to Echo relied on Niche, it brought them dozens of social media stars. The producers showed them the movie, flew them out to meet the actors featured in the film, and then asked them to blog, tweet, or post about it. According to the production company’s research, the Vine and Instagram mentions correlated directly with big jumps in the amount of visitors to the Wikipedia and YouTube pages for Earth to Echo—exactly what the company wanted, namely, to “spark their interest so that if they don’t know about the movie, they look it up and are talking about it.”

In charging to help make these connections, Niche already has earned approximately $1.5 million in just its first year of operations.

Source: Jenna Wortham, “The Well-Followed on Social Media Cash In on Their Influence,” The New York Times, June 8, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com